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Attorney for Patrolman Linert: Cruiser tank was defective

Published: Thu, July 14, 2011 @ 12:09 a.m.


Ross Linert


Adrien Foutz

By Peter H. Milliken



Austintown Patrolman Ross J. Linert was severely burned because of a defects in a Ford police car, Linert’s lawyer told the jury in opening statements in a civil lawsuit trial.

“The fuel tank was defective in that it deviated from Ford’s own engineering specifications,” Atty. Bradley M. Lakin said Wednesday. “There was a design defect in the tank location. There were no adequate warnings to police officers using this specific vehicle,” which was a 2005 Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor cruiser, he said.

More than 50 similar fuel-tank fires have occurred in the Crown Victoria cruiser and similar Ford vehicles, Lakin added.

Linert and his wife, Brenda, filed a multimillion- dollar lawsuit against the Ford Motor Co.

The trial is expected to last two to three weeks before visiting Judge Thomas P. Curran of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court.

The suit stemmed from a fiery, 116 mph, rear-end crash caused by a drunken driver at 1:08 a.m. Nov. 11, 2007, on Meridian Road under Interstate 680.

Ford’s lawyer, James Feeney, told the five- woman, three-man jury there was nothing inherently wrong with the tank location in Linert’s cruiser.

“Every tank is located in a crush zone,” Feeney said, referring to the existence of both side and rear crush zones affecting fuel tanks. “There is no perfect tank location,” he said, noting that the Linert cruiser suffered nearly five feet of crush, which went “well into the back seat.”

“Ford has gone the extra mile,” Feeney said, adding that the interceptor cruiser was the only vehicle made between 1998 and 2005 that passed a 75 mph rear-crash test.

Calling the car “the most rigorously tested police vehicle,” Feeney showed the jury video of various high-speed, rear-end crash tests illustrating what happened to the cruiser and other vehicles.

Linert’s cruiser met National Highway Traffic Safety Administration front, side and rear crash standards, Feeney said.

“Every tank, including ... Linert’s tank was pressured-tested,” at the manufacturing plant in Dearborn, Mich., and those that didn’t pass were rejected, Feeney said.

“There’s nothing wrong with the vehicle. ... Linert was hit at a net speed of 81 mph by a 4,000-pound car,” whose driver did not brake, Feeney said, noting that Linert was going 35 mph when the crash occurred.

Lakin said the metal crimp at the hole in the fuel tank from which fuel is sent to the engine was too thin, causing the sending unit to dislodge and leak the fuel that caused the fire that burned Linert.

Feeney said, however, the tank was distorted and the sending unit was dislodged by the pressure from the crash, not because the tank was defective.

Feeney said Ford provided vehicle-warning labels where needed and constantly communicated with police departments about performance and safety issues concerning its vehicles. “No one has done more to communicate with police than Ford,” concerning cruiser safety, he added.

As Ford’s four lawyers sat at the defense table, Brenda Linert sat with the three lawyers representing her and her husband, her face showing a pained expression as the couple’s lawyers spoke of Officer Linert’s medical and emotional ordeal.

Officer Linert was not in the courtroom.

Before the court session began, Lakin said it would be accurate to characterize the trial as a battle of engineering experts testifying concerning matters of vehicle design, manufacture, performance and safety.

Judge Curran said he would allow jurors to make handwritten notes during witness testimony, but not during the lawyers’ opening and closing statements.

Lakin told the jury Linert’s injuries caused him extreme pain and suffering and have made it impossible to return to duty as a police officer.

Linert, who was engulfed in flames, received burns over 28 percent of his body and was hospitalized 54 days.

He went through 10 major surgeries, including skin grafts, Lakin said.

Linert incurred about $1.1 million in medical bills and about $1.3 million in estimated lost wages, Lakin said, adding that Linert’s wife has lost work time while caring for him during his recovery.

In his opening statement, Feeney did not challenge any of Lakin’s statements about Linert’s ailments, treatments, medical bills or lost wages.


1nervusboy(6 comments)posted 4 years, 2 months ago

The drunk who hit him, Adrien Foutz should be punished in this manner:

1). Attach her wages and take at least $500/month from her paychecks for the rest of her life.

2). Revoke her driver's license FOREVER and a day.

3). Force her to VOLUNTEER in hospital burn unit or a NURSING HOME so that she has to experience some of the suffering she has caused her fellow human man.

4). Force her to SPEAK PUBLICLY at schools and public events about what she has done & the dangers of drinking and driving.

Suggest removal:

2nervusboy(6 comments)posted 4 years, 2 months ago

And that's after her JAIL TIME has been served and her FINES have been PAID...

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3Stan(9923 comments)posted 4 years, 2 months ago

"The suit stemmed from a fiery, 116 mph, rear-end crash caused by a drunken driver at 1:08 a.m. Nov. 11, 2007, on Meridian Road under Interstate 680."

Can't get enough money out of Adrien Foutz so Ford is being squeezed . One overlooked factor is the gasoline that ignited . Why not sue the oil company that brought it into the market ? In gelled form gasoline wouldn't be as flammable . The bootom line is that nothing will withstand a 116 MPH impact that any automobile is constructed of .

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4TB(1167 comments)posted 4 years, 2 months ago

Actually, if you read other articles, you'll see that Ford also manufactures a device to make the gas tank more secure at extra cost.

The questions then arise:
Why should we need more protection for a gas tank? Isn't it already safe?

Officer Linert is a good man who served well in his duties and has suffered irreparable damage, caused by a drunk driver but mitigated also by design flaws acknowledged by Ford's own admission in offering optional gas tank protection.

Also, Senate Bill 5 would make it impossible for policemen to bargain over this sort of safety equipment. Had Linert's cruiser contained the extra equipment (totaling around $150 according to another article,) then he would not have been burned and incurred millions in losses.

I hope he gets every penny.

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5UNCOMMONSENSE(550 comments)posted 4 years, 2 months ago

The design flaw of this vehicle's gas tank has been know for many years. Yet the department continued to purchase this vehicle, without the additional device to secure the gas tank, and the officer choose to put his life at risk by continuing to operate in this vehicle. At 116 mph, I doubt any design is going to protect you. Foutz is at fault but her pockets are not deep enough. Hence enter Ford "Deep Pockets" Motor Company.

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6Stan(9923 comments)posted 4 years, 2 months ago

Armor plating exists but at 116 MPH it also disintergrates . Sorry, but with me on the jury Ford would not be found at fault .

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7TB(1167 comments)posted 4 years, 2 months ago

He didn't choose to do so. His employer chose not to protect him, and the design flaw is unacceptable.

Sad that the value of a human life means so little to you...

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8Stan(9923 comments)posted 4 years, 2 months ago

Show me a design of a fuel tank for a passenger vehicle built to withstand a 116 MPH impact with steel . Even titanium would rupture .

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9AnotherAverageCitizen(1176 comments)posted 4 years, 2 months ago

The impact would only be at 81 mph since the cruiser was traveling 35 mph. Fuel tanks should hold up at that impact. Officers don't just choose to drive a certain vehicle. Usually they are issued/told to drive certain vehicles. If the township/state know of safety concerns, they should have paid the extra for protection.

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10UNCOMMONSENSE(550 comments)posted 4 years, 2 months ago

Why would you drive a vehicle that was known to be defective and may cost you your life? If you know that a product has a defect that can cause you harm and you choose to take your chances by using it, then you live with the consequences.

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11Stan(9923 comments)posted 4 years, 2 months ago

Even at 81 MPH only a fuel cell as used in race cars would have any chance of holding up . Unless they can show structural weakness or defect in the fuel tank metal Ford is not at fault .



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12DwightK(1399 comments)posted 4 years, 2 months ago

"Also, Senate Bill 5 would make it impossible for policemen to bargain over this sort of safety equipment."

Good point.

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13nervusboy(6 comments)posted 4 years, 2 months ago

Instead of evryone focusing on Ford's responsibilty why aren't we talking about the irresponsible driver that CHOSE to DRINK & DRIVE and ruin another's life??

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14Stan(9923 comments)posted 4 years, 2 months ago

nervusboy :

"Instead of evryone focusing on Ford's responsibilty why aren't we talking about the irresponsible driver that CHOSE to DRINK & DRIVE and ruin another's life??"

Because Adrien Foutz is broke and has no money . . .. This lawsuit is all about money . How did Dave Betras miss this case ?

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15TB(1167 comments)posted 4 years, 2 months ago

It is about money. Money for a man whose life has been altered beyond any sense of normalcy for protecting the populace who would now seem to turn against him.

Foutz is responsible, as is Ford. Stan, you just got shown how wrong you were since you don't understand physics.

As for driving a defective product, I think it's safe for any employee to assume his or her employer wouldn't put them in harm's way in regards to equipment being used, whether it be a tow motor, a car, etc.

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